In the United States, over 75 percent of households are in debt and student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion — a startling figure that caused many people to join the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011.
After sharing personal stories of their financial burdens, a group of around 30 protesters – artists, academics, lawyers, filmmakers, even a neuroscientist- decided to rise up against the injustices and form a collective.
The offshoot was called Strike Debt — with the goal of garnering enough attention to bring about change. Their first project was “socially hacking” the existing debt system.
Currently, when debts go into default, banks sell it on a secondary debt market for a fraction of the cost. The debt collectors who buy it for pennies on the dollar will turn around and try to extort the full amount from the debtor for a profit. Strike Debt researched how to blindly buy up the distressed debt like the collectors – but instead of collecting on it, they erased it.
One of the original collaborator’s, Laura Hanna, called it a “bailout of the 99% by the 99%.”
“We recognized in our research that debt is on sell, it is just not on sell to you,” she said. “You cannot go and negotiate your debts. So we wanted to create an entity where we could intervene in some way.”
They raised funds through a campaign called the Rolling Jubilee. The original plan was to raise $50,000 to abolish $1 million in debt. The campaign went viral and they ended up with over $700,000. To date they have erased over $18 million — first purchasing medical debt, and recently student loan debt.
Although charitable, the goal is not to continue as a fundraising machine. They plan to apply more pressure to lenders, the Department of Education, and other creditors to make an impact.
Credit : Kimberly Brooks, Walter J. Collins, William Gallego